City-County divide helps kick MLS out of St. Louis

It was an artist's rendering and that's as far as it will get.

It was an artist’s rendering and that’s as far as it will get.

Today’s lead story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch blamed the failure of the MLS stadium proposal on a large voter turnout in the City of St. Louis. That may be the case. But what really doomed the proposal is the same thing that continues to work against the St. Louis region as a whole – the separation of St. Louis City and St. Louis County.

We’ll never know for sure what would have happened had the two entities been one on this particular matter. So this is purely speculation on my part. Yet I’m convinced that had  St. Louis County been a part of this vote and had it been a single voting block of St. Louis County and St. Louis City instead of two separate entities, we’d be looking at a new stadium going up just west of Union Station.

As it was, passing two props was too much to ask of St. Louis City voters. With all that the City needs, putting the additional funding strictly on their shoulders was going to be a very tough sell. Helping to fund yet another stadium with a league that has been on shaky ground was a big enough leap of faith as it was.

Had the County been involved in the vote, even then, I’m not sure it would have passed and despite what St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said about looking for ways to collaborate, something tells me that the city location of the stadium would have been its downfall with a County vote added to the mix.

Only when the City and County join forces will we truly see regional cooperation. Alas, I don’t think that’s going to happen in my lifetime. The divide is too deep. There are way too many kingdoms in the County that will continue to look out strictly for themselves at the expense of the rest of the region.

I know it’s not that simple.

I was bummed when the Rams left but we sealed our own fate when somebody created that lovely little opt-out in the lease. Now I’m bummed that there won’t be an MLS team to root for during the spring, summer and fall. MLS soccer would have been a fun alternative and addition to the Cardinals and with the soccer-rich tradition of St. Louis, I think the team would have caught on very quickly.

The plan would have gotten my vote.

I hope that someday, another plan will.

 

 

 

First Bill and now, Bernie?

The decline of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is accelerating at a rapid pace.

First, we hear that Bill McClellan is ‘retiring’, as he, five reporters, two editors and a paginator all voluntarily resigned from the paper a few weeks ago and will collect severance pay based on their years of service. And in this morning’s paper on page two of the Sports page was a little article stating that Bernie Miklasz is also leaving his post at the Post.

This is not good news.

Yes, the days of the daily newspaper are dwindling. People simply have too many other options to obtain their news these days and there is so much content out there that people don’t have the time for in-depth analysis or commentary. It’s news delivered via sound bite or tweet.

Across the country, newspapers are struggling and closing their doors. The majority have gone to delivering content both in printed form and online, including the Post-Dispatch and numbers show that the printed pages are destined for oblivion.

For many years, the Post-Dispatch has been the only newspaper in town. I remember when the St. Louis Globe Democrat used to arrive in the morning and I’d get my sports update and read the comics in the Globe and then later in the day my dad would get home from work and hand me the afternoon edition of the Post-Dispatch – where I’d once again devour the sports page and read the comics (the P-D’s comics were always better than the Globe’s).

As a kid, it didn’t really matter to me about the left leaning idealogy of the Post and the conservative approach of the Globe. But as I got older I began to notice and when the Globe folded and St. Louis became a one-paper town, the Post-Dispatch was all we had – love it or leave it.

People began to leave it.

Their left leanings never really bothered me. I regularly read their news and analysis and often disagree with their point-of-view. That’s okay. At least they had a point-of-view. Now when you read the bylines of the articles and even the columnists – most are picked up from other sources.

Now, they’re going to have to pick up even more. Bill McClellan has been reduced to one Sunday column a week. I have no idea how Bill will decide what to write. But whatever it is, I’ll read it because I love Bill’s point-of-view, his wit, his wisdom and his unique way of capturing the absurdity of life.

Bernie will be greatly missed as well. He’s another gifted writer who not only sees the big picture of the sports world, he’s also extremely gifted at revealing insights that go way beyond the box score.

When Bryan Burwell died, he wasn’t replaced. Even though this morning’s paper says they’re going to search for another sports columnist, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if that didn’t happen. Perhaps Bernie saw the writing on the wall and thought it best to get out before the flames completely engulfed him.

All I know is that when I walk out to my driveway in the morning and I pick up the morning paper, (which hopefully hasn’t been sitting in a puddle where the water somehow manages to permeate the cheap plastic wrapper) that not only will it continue to be a little thinner due to fewer companies choosing to advertise in a paper that has been dwindled and lessened in content with news that is picked up from other sources (how’s this for a run-on?) and throughout you’ll find typos and errors of omission – but now, my two favorite columnists that I’ve been reading for a long, long time – are gone.

I’ve written quite a bit about the steady decline of St. Louis. Yet I hold out hope that this city can experience a renaissance. I don’t really have those hopes for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

At least, not in its current form that shows up on my driveway each morning.

Before we know it, St. Louis may not even be a one-paper town anymore.

And we’ll have to go elsewhere to find out what Bill or Bernie have to say about that.

We’ve heard this Monsanto story before

Monsanto isn’t going anywhere. Right?

How are we to know?

Quite frankly, we don’t. Maybe the recent news of their effort to purchase Swiss-based Syngenta AG won’t result in them going any further than their new Chesterfield campus. They have, after all, committed to spend more than $1 billion to their Chesterfield location and that certainly doesn’t sound like a company that’s going to up and leave the region.

Still, it makes you wonder.

According to an article in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger is, “looking at this with optimism.”

What else can you do other than try and be optimistic?

Sure, Monsanto has been a part of the St. Louis business community since 1901. That may pale next to Anheuser-Busch and their 1852 beginnings but it’s still some pretty serious roots in St. Louis.

And if there’s any company that should have an understanding of roots, you’d think it would be Monsanto.

Fortunately, Monsanto is the one seeking to do the buying, expanding their ability to focus on issues facing farmers challenged with feeding the world’s growing population.The company supplies approximately 90% of the world’s GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds. I’m not sure how Syngenta fits into that plan – they also are a biotech company that conducts genomic research. And genetically modified crops have certainly been under fire.

Geoff Whittington, of Next StL writes, “GMO technology is highly controversial and has many detractors. A major 2008 UN /World Bank-sponsored report compiled by 400 scientists and endorsed by 58 countries concluded that genetically modified crops have little to offer to the challenges of poverty, hunger, and climate change. The report recommended organic farming as the sustainable way forward for developing countries. Additionally, the United States is the only developed country in the world that does not have mandatory GMO labeling laws.”

World population growth continues to expand. Conditions for growing crops don’t appear to be improving. Something’s got to be done and the solution is far from simple.

If Monsanto wants to change their name to Mongenta or SynSanto, that’s fine by me. If they want to move from their Creve Coeur campus a little further west to Chesterfield, that’s still good for the St. Louis region and perhaps the Creve Coeur campus could become a new hub for more biotechnology and research-based companies.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin thinks the whole potential Syngenta acquisition is all about Monsanto incorporating overseas in order to avoid paying U.S. taxes.

Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know if he’d be saying such a thing if Monsanto were based out of Peoria.

For now, they’re based out of St. Louis – Creve Coeur/Chestefield – it doesn’t matter.

As long as they don’t end up in Switzerland.

Ending up on the front page of the paper

When I was at my previous job, I used to lead the creative team responsible for creating communications on the U.S. Army’s Sexual/Harassment Assault Response & Prevention Program (also known as SHARP).

That seems like another lifetime ago.

So imagine my surprise when I pulled the plastic wrapper off of this morning’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, opened the front page and the lead photograph was of two different posters we created about four years ago.

I’m sure J.B. Forbes, (who took the photo) was thrilled when he saw the message on the left, which reads, “Commit a sexual assault and you can flush your whole career right down the toilet.”

How appropriate for a story about Staff Sgt. Angel Sanchez who was found guilty “on a long list of egregious claims against him, such as forcing sexual favors from young trainees.”

But the story dug a little deeper than that as it, “explored lapses in reporting and protocol at all levels that allowed Sanchez to prey on female trainees despite anti-sex abuse program.”

I’m not sure if this story was exploiting one case and using it to imply that the Army’s entire approach to sexual harassment and assault is not working.

The article did go on to say that, “the Sanchez case had triggered a widespread review of SHARP personnel and systems at Ft. Leonard Wood. And at a national level, the Army has taken steps to ensure leaders are aware of the lessons learned from the incident a Pentagon spokesman said.”

Some people say that any publicity is good publicity. Probably not so, in this case.

According to the article, there were warning signs about Sgt. Sanchez that those in positions of authority should have acted upon and that, “two former E Company trainees said from the stand that the two highest-ranking members of the 701st Military Police Battalion told trainees that if they made any more SHARP complaints, the whole company would have to start basic training all over.”

I know when I worked on the SHARP account, it was serious business. The Army knew they had to change their culture in order to make significant attitude adjustments regarding sexual harassment and assault in the military – and it had to start at the top.

We created a 30-minute training video that was one of the more powerful pieces of communication that I have ever worked on in my career. We created posters to hang in barracks and offices, created training guides for drill sergeants with real-life what-ifs and what-to-do in the event this happens on your watch. They reinforced the whole concept of battle buddy and stressed the importance of watching out for each other – on and off the battlefield.

Still, you can create all the anti-drunk driving messaging you want. And people will still drive drunk. You can create powerful anti-smoking campaigns and put labels on cigarette packs saying if you smoke these you’ll die sooner. And people will still smoke.

When you look at the hierarchy of communication, you have awareness/understanding/conviction/action.

The training materials, posters, flyers and videos we created all did a fairly good job of creating awareness and to a degree, understanding of the consequences and of the simple need to watch out for your fellow Soldier.

It’s the conviction and action part that apparently still needs fixing.

I know one thing is true. Sgt. Sanchez committed a sexual assault and he did indeed flush his whole career right down the toilet.

Truth in advertising.

 

Bryan Burwell kept his story under wraps

I was stunned to hear the news that Bryan Burwell died of cancer yesterday morning.

It was only then that I realized I hadn’t read any recent articles by the gifted St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist. And when I thought about it, it sank in that I hadn’t heard his laughing voice over the radio airwaves all that recently, either.

But it seemed like I had. His laugh was easily recognizable. And he liked to laugh, loved to poke fun – at himself and others.

I never knew Bryan Burwell.

But I felt like I did.

Turns out his last column for the Post-Dispatch was about the plans for a new Rams stadium. This morning in the paper, I read that silent Stan actually reached out to Bryan during his illness and offered to help however he could.

Money can’t do a thing about pancreatic cancer.

Still, I’m sure that Stan’s offer was genuine.

And so was Bryan.

I enjoyed reading his columns even though I often disagreed with his point-of-view. He wasn’t just a good writer. He was a great writer – able to capture a story and make you think, make you mad, make you smile, make you something – his words had power.

Bryan wasn’t an African American sports columnist. He was a sports columnist who happened to be African American.

I read every word I could about him in this morning’s sports page and I tuned to the radio today to hear if there would be more tributes to this man.

His words, his actions and the way he lived his life touched people across the sports world of America.

From everything I read about him, he lived his life full of energy, always positive, always ready for the next kickoff or tip-off or the first pitch of the game.

He loved sports and he loved life.

And that’s probably the reason he didn’t want the news of his illness to be known. It would be a distraction from the games.

I never knew Bryan Burwell.

But I miss him already.

RIP, Bryan.

St. Louis City County merger debate becomes official

Imagine my surprise on my birthday when I read a front page story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the St. Louis City County merger was going to be discussed in an open forum.

Impossible! You mean to say that the leaders of the City and County were actually going to sit down and discuss the split that has hurt our region since it happened back in 1876?

I was cautiously optimistic.

Today, not quite so much, but I guess patience has never been one of my better virtues.

From what I read in today’s paper, yesterday’s meeting that symbolically took place at the Cheshire Inn near the edge of the City County line, accomplished – well, I actually have no idea what it accomplished other than generating some significant press which is certainly more than I’m capable of doing.

Still, a visit to the www.BetterTogetherStl.org website didn’t exactly fire me up. They are proposing a 16-month series of community-based studies on the following topics: Public Finance, Economic Development, Public Health, Public Safety, Parks, Recreation & Infrastructure and Administration.

In reality, I’m sure all these studies will be needed to convince the 116 local governments in our 91 different municipalities that maybe we’d be better off simplifying things a bit and saving a few billion in the process for our region.

I am a huge proponent of the St. Louis metropolitan region. Like the name of the group that is at least investigating (but not advocating) a City County merger, I believe we would all be better together.

For too long, this City County split has hurt the region in multiple ways. There have been numerous political battles based on turf wars. And if only St. Louisans could stand back and look at the national picture, perhaps they might see how the region would instantly become more credible with a merger.

Suddenly, we’d become a major city again. And all those stories about St. Louis being one of the most dangerous cities to live in based on crime statistics would be altered downward. Perception vs. reality? A bit. But maybe if we were one large entity, we might be able to focus more on the areas of the city and county that are really hurting and rather than move away and bus away, we could re-invest and rejuvenate.

This region has so much going for it, but the continued, “not in my back yard” attitude of so many people will never allow us to move forward. And we need to move forward.

I don’t want to see St. Louis turn into a Des Moines or a Toledo (I have nothing against either of those cities but only use them as examples of cities without a major national presence).

We should aspire to greatness. We should look to be leaders in urban development, in regional cooperation, spawning a new economic age where the Midwest truly becomes the hub of our country. We don’t need to give up our morals or our history or the community activities that give so many parts of the St. Louis area our uniqueness.

When you’re away from this state and you meet someone and they ask where you’re from, you don’t say, “I’m from Des Peres.” Or, “I’m from Dellwood.”

You say, “I’m from St. Louis.”

And you say that whether you’re from the City or the County.

That’s the way it should be.

I’m from St. Louis – one of the greatest cities in the world.

One can dream.

LaunchCode makes good business sense

I’ve never heard of Jim McKelvey before I read today’s article about him in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Odds are good I’ll never meet him. But I’d like to thank him for launching LaunchCode and I hope his new startup has amazing success – because if it succeeds, that bodes well for St. Louis.

The premise behind LaunchCode is a simple one. Pair an experienced code writer with an inexperienced one and put them on the same project at a participating company.

There are currently 100 St. Louis companies that have chosen to participate in this venture. What they do is when an open job comes up, they agree to take on an inexperienced code writer and pair them up with one of their experienced developers until the newbie is up to speed and receives a full-time job. The newbie is paid a true intern rate – while they develop the skills that go beyond mere programming, participating in project meetings and taking responsibility for their work while learning all the steps that go into the coding process.

Simple, right? So simple, that you wonder why it hasn’t been done before and to a degree, it has – that’s what internship programs are all about. But it’s never been a joint effort with multiple companies participating throughout one city focused on one simple task – writing code. It benefits the company. It benefits the individuals who participate, ramping them up to speed quicker and benefits the overall talent pool in this area.

LaunchCode is a volunteer effort. It was started to help expand the talent pool of code writers in the St. Louis area which is critical in attracting major players in the technology arena to this area. The more companies who sign on with LaunchCode here in St. Louis, the more jobs it will help create. The more jobs it helps create, the more attractive the region becomes to companies thinking of moving here that have major technology needs.

Good job, Jim McKelvey.

You got the ball rolling. Let’s hope more St. Louis companies jump on board.

Let’s Grow St. Louis.

 

 

St. Louis’ mile of creativity

I have yet to see the St. Louis Graffiti Wall located on Wharf Street south of the Arch but that will change in the next few weeks. I’ve got to see it.

The Graffiti Wall has been around for a while but I never really thought of it as a must-see attraction. In yesterday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I saw two photos mentioning it and the photos were enough to make me want to see more.

Open Studios STL was celebrating St. Louis artists and art in general so they invited more than 140 graffiti artists from around the country to give the wall a refresh. Here’s the article that also has a link to a slideshow of some of the work in progress: (http://www.stltoday.com/gallery/news/multimedia/all-kinds-of-art-in-st-louis-over-the-weekend/collection_f842be1e-cd6c-5270-9e6b-1056ee522fd8.html#18)

More impressive, though, is this YouTube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXI5D3MKB28) that takes you for a ride, traveling along the wall where you can view the Graffiti Wall in its entirety. It takes several minutes to view and they do some weird camera angles that almost made me dizzy while watching it. Still, it’s amazing.

Well, at least some parts of it are. I think recently some graffiti lovers have taken to grafitti-ing the graffiti and the net effect becomes kind of junky. But there are also startling pieces of illustration and a wide variety of styles that make me want to take an hour or so to view the art. Because it is art.

And the talents of the many contributors have created something that, though you can’t call it a masterpiece, is at least a definite tribute to – well, that’s hard to say. Pop culture? The underground? The underbelly?

Graffiti artists have always had a bad rap – and for good reason – they’re defacing property that isn’t theirs to deface. But this is different. This is a graffiti wall that comes with the public’s blessing and it’s another sign that St. Louis really does support the arts.

I have always loved to paint on large canvasses. Having an entire wall to create something would be both amazing and a major challenge. I don’t think I could go at the pace of some of these maestros and I’ve never really experimented with painting with a spray can though I know it’s not too different than the airbrush work I used to do.

For now, I’m happy to be an observer.

I plan on having my ipod with me when I walk the mile. Music and art just naturally go together. I might also have a spray can or two with me when I go. Maybe I’ll paint a Billiken (which would be my own rendition of Kilroy was here) or re-create the Yes logo which I used to draw on all my notebooks back in high school. (I’m a huge fan of Roger Dean!)

So check out the YouTube video and if the art moves you, go see it in person.

Hopefully, it will be worth the price of admission.

No wonder print media is dying

We used to subscribe to Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone and Adweek. Not anymore. Print media is dying. But by no means have people lost interest – it’s just that the way we consume media continues to evolve.

Recently, I have had the privilege of working on a project where we’re converting collateral brochures into online apps that can be viewed on tablets like the Ipad and whatever else is out there. My eyes have truly been opened to the new powers of persuasion.

Magazines or brochures can give you facts and information. With strong copywriting and great art direction, you can tell a powerful story. But it simply can’t compete when your layouts can feature live video links. Or your type flies on the page and then explodes off of it. Or your photos can feature 360 degree pans or you can zoom in to the photo to take a closer look. Infographics can magically form. Hyperlinks can take you to more content. The page can expand to deliver more of your story or call-out buttons can feature pop-up graphics and summaries.

It’s a strange new world and it’s exciting to be in on what I consider to be close to the ground floor. While early adopters were working out all the kinks associated with making all this interactivity functional, the magazine industry has been climbing aboard the digital format, knowing that people will stay pay for their favorite magazines – only now, they’re phasing out the printed versions. Newsstands will soon become a thing of the past as the number of Americans who jump on the tablet and smartphone bandwagon continues to rise.

I’ve seen firsthand what this has done to a number of local printers as well as several design firms that used to thrive on creating annual reports, calendars, catalogs and company brochures. They’ve had to evolve or they suffered the consequences.

Likewise, today’s art directors and designers have had to expand their knowledge base far beyond the printed page. I’m amazed at the many talents of today’s designers – yet it also seems to me that many are more involved in the flash of the presentation versus the fundamental idea that still needs to be present no matter what media you’re working in at the time. Writers have had to adapt as well. Long form content isn’t exactly in demand these days. But you better be well-versed in knowing how to write in this brave new world of interactivity.

I’ve said before that I still enjoy shuffling out of our house to get the morning paper and then sitting down to devour its contents. I know those days are numbered. Our mailbox no longer contains the magazines it once did and it’s only a matter of time before the St. Louis Post-Dispatch pulls the plug on its daily edition.

The writing is on the wall. Or rather, the writing is in the tablet, the laptop and the smartphone which before we know it, will all be merged into one.

Keep reading.

And keep evolving.

 

 

In praise of Bill McClellan

Bill McClellan is a great writer. He has that rare ability to make the most insignificant of things seem significant – or at least interesting enough to read about from the first sentence right on down to his wrap-up statement.

Today’s column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was classic Bill. It was like a Seinfeld episode contained in about 20 total inches of space. In it, he managed to tie together an Eagles song, his vacation to Arizona, a song from My Fair Lady and Fleishman-Hillard’s removal of their hypen from their company name. I have no idea what Al Fleishman or Bob Hillard would have to say about their names being scrunched together, but I’m sure they would gladly accept the ink and the postings that their new company name is generating. (After all, any publicity is good publicity).

What really amazed me about Bill’s column today was its total insignificance. It really was a column about nothing. That was the brilliance behind Seinfeld and it’s one of the major reasons I love to wake up in the morning, slip on the nearest pair of shoes and shuffle out to my driveway to get the morning newspaper. The Sports section always comes first, particularly on mornings that follow epic games like the Steen wraparound goal in the overtime Blues win last night. That commanded my immediate attention while I was downing my morning bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios.

But I always save time to savor Bill. The fun thing about his column is you never know what is going to grab his attention. I can’t say I’m always enamored with his down on their luck stories of people who’ve been shafted in one way or another but he does manage to always find some irony or some terrible wrong-doing that needs righting. But it’s his columns where he more or less just rambles about whatever is on his mind at the moment that always seem to stick with me.

I read all about FleishmanHillard’s (my spell check says that this is now a typo so I guess they’ll have to fix that somehow on the macs and pcs in Fleishman land) name change in last week’s paper and I like their new logo which neatly links the F and the H into one mark. But I didn’t give any thought whatsoever to the removal of the hyphen. Bill did and because of it, I now will think just a bit every time I see that scrunched together name and wonder, “Was that really necessary?”

Kind of like this post.